Something About Mario RPGs

Earlier this year, I picked up the 3DS remake of Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story. But before I play through it, I remembered I (strangely) never beat the 2017 3DS remake of Superstar Saga. So I recently started a new file on that game (and have since beat it, and will review it once I play more of the remake’s exclusive “Minion Quest” mode). Not only did returning to Superstar Saga end up being an utter joy, but it also really, really made me miss what the Mario RPGs used to be.

It’s been ten years since the original release of Bowser’s Inside Story on the DS, and not counting the aforementioned 3DS remakes, that was the last time the Mario RPGs were truly great (I did enjoy Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle a great deal, but seeing as that was both a crossover and a strategy RPG, I guess it’s not quite what I’m talking about). And I really, really miss the days when the Mario RPGs were among the best things Nintendo had going for them.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars remains my favorite RPG of all time, and arguably my favorite game period. It perfectly combined the accessibility and fun of Mario with the depth and turn-based gameplay of RPGs, without sacrificing the quality of either of its halves. Although it tragically never received a proper sequel, the Square developed title did receive two spiritual successors created by Nintendo’s own internal studios.

Paper Mario simplified the formula a bit, but still made for a hefty adventure that boasted a unique art style, and saw Mario team up with party members based on the series’ iconic enemies. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was more focused on fast-paced action, and featured genuinely hilarious writing. Both of these Super Mario RPG spiritual successors would wind up becoming their own sub-series.

Paper Mario was followed-up by the critically-acclaimed Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door on the GameCube, while two Mario & Luigi sequels were released on the Nintendo DS: 2005’s Partners in Time, and 2009’s Bowser’s Inside Story. Of the lot, Partners in Time is the only one that fell short of the rest, though even it was still a good game in its own right (though I’m not complaining that the 3DS remakes went directly for the best M&L entries).

While it’s usually the Mario platformers and The Legend of Zelda that are held in the highest regard in Nintendo’s canon, the Mario RPGs were, more quietly, delivering experiences that were often just as good. And with their Nintendo mentality of “fun at all costs,” the Mario RPGs provided some of the most timeless games in the genre (Final Fantasy hasn’t aged so gracefully).

But then, in a creative move that truly defies all logic and reason, Nintendo decided to begin stripping away many of the elements that made the Mario RPGs so memorable. The third Paper Mario title, 2007’s Super Paper Mario, was still a fun game, but it removed the series’ turn-based structure in favor of a platformer that featured RPG elements. Not a bad idea in itself, and Super Paper Mario still retained an RPG-like story, but considering the main Mario series are platformers, did Nintendo really have to sacrifice Paper Mario to test out this idea?

Hey, at least Super Paper Mario was still a good game. And it was followed up by the aforementioned Bowser’s Inside Story. Little did we know that Bowser’s Inside Story would be a one-time return to form. A “last hoorah” if you will. Because after that we got the 3DS’s Paper Mario: Sticker Star, the first Mario RPG that could be considered a flat-out bad game.

Not that you could truly call Sticker Star an RPG. Sure, turn-based battles were back, but they were dictated entirely by consumable ‘sticker’ items. Every action you used in battle required these consumable items. And for victory, you didn’t get experience points and level up.

For winning battles, you were rewarded with either A) more stickers, or B) coins…to buy more stickers. It was a self-defeating concept. Why should I bother fighting and spending my stickers if the only reward is more stickers? And if you think you’re supposed to save up stickers for boss fights, that’s not it either. Bosses required specific stickers to be defeated, so it’s not like conserving and strategizing the stickers you’ve saved up even meant anything.

You know what’s even worse? Sticker Star not only had virtually no story to speak of, and no party members, but it removed the humorous writing the Mario RPGs were known for (Bowser, of all characters, never even spoke). Sticker Star also marked the beginning of the bizarre trend of Nintendo not allowing the Mario RPGs to feature original enemies, with only established baddies from the platformers showing up. Perhaps strangest of all, this was also when Nintendo started making every last Toad in the Mario RPGs just look like the generic “blue vest, red spots” Toads. When the previous RPGs gave us Toads of all shapes, sizes and crazy geddups, why take that away and effectively remove so much personality from the games?

And yet, this was the direction Nintendo decided to stick with. Sure, the next RPG in the Mario pipeline, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (released on 3DS in 2013) was a step up in many ways (for one, it actually felt like an RPG again). But it also was, by a considerable margin, the most creatively bland M&L game up to that point. It did have some original enemies again, but the “Generic Toad” epidemic was still in full effect.

Then, in early 2016, the 3DS also saw the release of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. In concept, Paper Jam sounds like it should have been the shot in the arm the Mario RPGs needed, being a crossover between the two continuing Mario RPG series.

Sadly, the concept is the best part of the game, as Paper Jam was really just a watered down Mario & Luigi sequel that doubled down on Dream Team’s faults (Toads with zero distinction and personality, no more original enemies whatsoever). It just so happened to feature Paper Mario as a third party member. Considering how great the Mario & Luigi games once were, it was sad to see the series fall this far from grace.

To sum it up simply, Superstar Saga remains one of the funniest, most quotable games I’ve ever played, but I honestly can’t remember any bit of writing that came out of Paper Jam.

Later in 2016, we’d get the last new Mario RPG so far (again, unless we count Mario + Rabbids), Paper Mario: Color Splash on Wii U. Despite fans wanting Nintendo to return to the turn-based, actually-an-RPG style of the first two Paper Marios for years, Nintendo decided to go all WWE and turn a def ear on fans. They actually made the game a follow-up to Sticker Star’s gameplay.

Yeah, no kidding. I miss unique Toads.

To its credit, at least Color Splash had some humor and personality to it (though the Toads remain generic, and new enemies still weren’t allowed), and some of the gameplay could be fun. But there still weren’t any party members, and the battle system remained largely pointless (though the game’s “cards” were an improvement over their sticker predecessors, seeing as you could power up cards by painting them, and you could gradually increase your maximum paint through battles, so there was some semblance of progression). So Color Splash was essentially a version of Sticker Star that wasn’t completely broken. But that’s not exactly “on par with the Mario platformers and The Legend of Zelda” now, is it?

Again, one could argue that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle set things in a right direction for Mario RPGs (and it’s certainly a better game than anything involving the Rabbids has any right to be), but you could also argue it should go in a whole other category. Even still, as enjoyable as Mario + Rabbids is, I still wouldn’t put it on the same level as the Mario RPGs of old.

Thankfully, the fact that the 3DS now houses Superstar Saga and Bowser’s Inside Story means we have access to brilliant Mario RPGs on contemporary hardware. But it’s kind of sad that Nintendo had to resort to past success in order to do so. Don’t get me wrong, the remakes are great, but it would be great if we could also get a brand new Mario RPG that could live up to its legacy.

Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, Superstar Saga, Thousand-Year Door and Bowser’s Inside Story are widely (and wisely) considered the top-tier Mario RPGs. But the sad thing is it seems like Nintendo has no plans on making a Mario RPG like they used to.

What’s particularly sad about that scenario is that the Mario franchise on the whole has really never been better. The release of Super Mario Galaxy in 2007 began a Mario renaissance that continues to this day. Between it, Galaxy 2, 3D World, Mario Kart 8, Super Mario Maker and Odyssey, the Mario franchise hasn’t lost any steam. And while Bowser’s Inside Story was released within this timeframe, that was it for the RPGs.

For whatever reason, Nintendo decided to strip away the things that made Mario RPGs so memorable in the first place. And instead of listening to fans and changing course (as they have in other areas in recent years), they’ve just gone into overdrive in regards to watering down the once great sub-genre. If one were only to have played Color Splash and Paper Jam, they’d never know that Mario RPGs were, at one point, among Nintendo’s finest achievements.

Here’s hoping that the recent remakes of Superstar Saga and Bowser’s Inside Story remind Nintendo of what Mario RPGs once were, and help them figure out how they can recreate that magic.

Whether its a worthwhile Mario & Luigi, a Paper Mario that returns to its roots, doing the impossible and teaming with Square to make a direct sequel to Super Mario RPG, or something new entirely, a new Mario RPG that can live up to the legacy of its best predecessors is something Nintendo sorely needs.

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Replaying: Super Mario 3D World

The Super Mario Maker 2 trailer that launched back in February not only got me hyped for the upcoming Switch title, but its addition of the Super Mario 3D World play style had me feeling nostalgic for the 2013 Wii U platformer. And seeing as I previously stated I wanted to start replaying games more and writing more gaming articles besides reviews, now seemed as good a time as any to revisit Super Mario 3D World. Besides, after trudging through the overly-long and tedious Kingdom Hearts 3, and its mishandling of franchises I like, I needed to play something more fun, rewarding, charming, and that did justice to a franchise I like. Thus, replaying Super Mario 3D World was a no-brainer (it sure would be great if they could make a Disney game this good).

Okay, let’s get this out of the way: No, Super Mario 3D World is not as good as the Super Mario Galaxy titles that preceded it, nor is it as good as Super Mario Odyssey that followed. But considering the Galaxy duo and Odyssey are among the greatest games ever created, not being as good as them pretty much refers to most games that aren’t them. On its own merits, however, Super Mario 3D World is still one of the most consistently fun and creative games of the 2010s.

Yeah, it seems like I praise Mario games a lot. But while not every Mario game is good (New Super Mario Bros. 2 and Paper Mario: Sticker Star, both released a year prior to 3D World, were creatively empty and flat-out boring, respectively), I will say that Super Mario is the only series in which a game as great as 3D World could be considered one of its smaller achievements. It may not have the revolutionary factor of Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario 64, nor is it as great as the trio mentioned in the above paragraph or games like Super Mario World. And yet, it’s hard to find much fault in Super Mario 3D World other than “it’s not as good as some other Mario games.” The Legend of Zelda is probably the only other series that can boast equal quality, though maybe not quite at the same level of consistency (and maybe Dark Souls/Bloodborne, but that has far fewer entries).

“One level combines a shadow aesthetic with the gameplay quirk of carrying around a hungry Piranha Plant.”

What makes Super Mario 3D World so good? It all boils down to the two qualities that best define a good game: great gameplay, and a terrific sense of creativity. 3D World may not be the most innovative Mario game, but the gameplay and design is as polished as any of the heroic plumber’s entries, and each stage is a showcase of one playful idea after another. It’s the kind of game where the simple act of controlling your character is a joy (which is actually pretty rare, though seemingly less so with this series).

Many fans were at first disappointed with Super Mario 3D World’s initial E3 reveal, as it followed in the footsteps of the 2011 3DS title, Super Mario 3D Land. This raised fans’ eyebrows for two reasons: The first was that 3D Land was a solid game, but not a particularly standout one which, again, given the pedigree of the Mario series, is tantamount to a massive disappointment. The other reason is that, like 3D Land, 3D World seemed to be aiming more for the feel of a 2D Mario entry than a 3D one with its linear level design, with most fans protesting that the 3D Mario titles were losing their distinct identity due to the ludicrous sales of the New Super Mario Bros. side scrolling series.

While I admit I too at the time had some doubts about seeing a “proper” follow-up to 64, Sunshine, and the Galaxy duo (we would eventually get just that with Odyssey), I was hardly disappointed with what 3D World promised. After all, we were ‘only’ three years removed from Galaxy 2 at the time (most “proper” 3D Marios had much longer gaps in between releases), so it didn’t really feel like the necessary time for another Mario title of that scale. Secondly, while the New Super Mario Bros. games were competently fun, they never really felt like the worthy continuations of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World that they wanted to be. 3D Land introduced the style and feeling of 2D Marios into the world of 3D Marios (linear stages with clear end goals, time limits, etc.) and felt like a step in the right direction. But again, didn’t quite hit the mark.

Super Mario 3D World, however, quickly reveals itself as the worthy successor to games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and World that we had been waiting for, despite being a 3D title. It took the foundations of 3D Land, and combined it with the sense of invention and polish that we expect from Mario’s best titles (which, again, was lacking from New Super Mario Bros. and 3D Land). The Galaxy games had refined what 64 started, so it was cool to get something that felt like a fitting continuation to the Mario games that predated 64 (now if only the Mario RPGs could get a worthy follow-up).

There are so many things that make Super Mario 3D World work so well: the level design is a constant delight, with each stage presenting something new, and always fun. The power-ups – from perennial favorites the Fire Flower and Tanooki Leaf, 3D Land’s Boomerang Suit, and 3D World’s own Double Cherry (which duplicates your character) and the surprisingly powerful and versatile Cat Suit – are all a joy, and add so much to the gameplay (the Cat Suit, in particular, has to join the ranks of Mario’s best power-ups). And you get to play as not only Mario, but Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad as well, each coming with their abilities from Super Mario Bros. 2 (Luigi jumps highest, Peach floats, and Toad is fastest, with Mario being well-rounded). And of course you can unlock Rosalina, who comes equipped with the spin attack from Super Mario Galaxy. It’s a Mario platformer where you get to play as Rosalina! That alone makes it a winner (Rosalina is best girl).

Oh yeah, I almost forgot that Super Mario 3D World is also the only four-player entry in the 3D Mario canon. And unlike many games that add co-op multiplayer to a traditionally single-player formula, the level design of Super Mario 3D World compliments playing alone or with friends.

“The Koopa/Blob/Clown/Monster.”

If there’s any downside to Super Mario 3D World, it’s that the boss fights are an utter cakewalk. Yeah yeah, people claim Mario bosses tend to be easy, but the series often finds ways to make the boss battles feel creative, which makes it easy to look past a lack of difficulty. But aside from the final fight against Bowser and two other recurring bosses (a monarch snake and a Koopa/Blob/Clown/Monster), the boss fights of 3D World feel tacked on and rushed (Boom Boom should never serve as a world boss). But aside from the underwhelming boss battles, just about everything else about Super Mario 3D World is a constant barrage of fun and inspiration.

“Six years later, and the game still looks great!”

Along with gameplay and creativity, Super Mario 3D World also boasts what I consider to be the third key ingredient to a great game: a fantastic musical score. Again, the music may not quite be on Galaxy or Odyssey’s level, but 3D World still provides one of the most memorable scores in the Mario canon. Even the sound effects of the game seem to reinforce the game’s “fun at all costs” mentality.

Under my original “.5” scoring system, I awarded Super Mario 3D World a 9.0 out of 10. But now, under my current whole number system, I’ve flip-flopped between an 8 and a 9 (flip-flopping more than perhaps any other game). Unlike other games where I’ve been indecisive with its score, it’s my ‘heart’ that rates the game lower and my ‘mind’ that rates it higher. In terms of ‘heart,’ I can say I don’t feel quite as strongly for 3D World as some other games I would rate highly. After all, I gave both Red Dead Redemption 2 and 2018’s God of War a score of 8/10, as I’m trying to make that the exceptional score that most games would strive for. In that sense, 3D World makes sense with that score. But in terms of ‘mind,’ I would say that Super Mario 3D World doesn’t really have many notable faults. Aside from the boss fights and “not being as good as other Mario games,” there’s really not much to gripe about with Super Mario 3D World. As great as Red Dead 2 and God of War are – and yes, they are undeniably ‘bigger’ games than 3D World – they also have more notable flaws than Mario’s Wii U outing. Super Mario 3D World doesn’t feature an obnoxiously sidetracked trip to Guarma, for example. So I’m still undecided on which score to settle on.

As of this writing, I’ve beaten the “main game” of my current playthrough of Super Mario 3D World, and am currently playing through the post-game secret worlds. And after recently playing through lengthy games (including the aforementioned tediousness of Kingdom Hearts 3), revisiting Super Mario 3D World is exactly what I needed. Its constant sense of fun and invention, combined with its polished execution makes Super Mario 3D World an easy game to pick up and play, and a delight to revisit again and again.

Super Mario 3D World may not be the most groundbreaking Mario game, but it’s an undeniable blast from start to finish. And while my favorite Wii U game will always be Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Super Mario 3D World is just about the only Wii U game left that hasn’t either been ported to the Nintendo Switch, or have an improved sequel for Nintendo’s hybrid console (even Super Mario Maker, once believed to be the justification of the Wii U’s gamepad, is getting a Switch sequel). So along with the Virtual Console, Super Mario 3D World is basically the reason to keep your Wii U at the ready… at least until it gets ported to the Switch.

Is Super Mario 3D World worth a replay? Oh, hell yeah!

Super Mario Odyssey’s First Anniversary!

Wow, can you believe it’s already been a year since Super Mario Odyssey brought perfection into our gaming lives?

Yes indeed, Super Mario Odyssey celebrates its first anniversary today.

“Image originally from Super Mario Odyssey’s Japanese Twitter, to celebrate the occasion.”

Of the hundreds and hundreds of video games I’ve played over the course of my life, Super Mario Odyssey is easily among the very best. It stands as one of (currently) only nine games I’ve awarded a perfect 10/10, and probably its biggest competition for the title of best game of this decade is its own predecessor, Super Mario Galaxy 2 (another of my 10/10s).

How good is Super Mario Odyssey? So good that, when I beat its story and the credits started rolling, I actually stood up and gave the game a standing ovation. You might say that doesn’t make any sense, since I just completed a video game by my lonesome and it’s not the same as a theater environment where other moviegoers could join in. But that’s just how good Odyssey is. Come to think of it, I don’t know why I didn’t mention my standing ovation in my review of the game somewhere. I don’t believe I’ve done that before with a video game, so it’s worth mentioning in regards to how much I enjoyed it.

Why is Super Mario Odyssey so good? Like all the best games that don the Super Mario name, its a non-stop barrage of creative ideas. And Odyssey might just showcase this better than any other entry in the series. From the second the game begins to well after the credits roll, Odyssey presents players with insurmountable imagination. There’s not a moment in Odyssey that isn’t utterly delightful and inventive.

Super Mario Odyssey is a game that takes elements from just about all of its predecessors, and rearranges them in such ways that it constantly feels fresh and new. Whereas most games – even exceptional ones – often present you with the long and the short of their vision within the first couple of hours and then repeat those elements for longevity, Odyssey never lets up with its restless imagination. It looks back on its peerless catalogue of predecessors not just to simply rekindle fond memories of gaming’s past, but more importantly, to reinvent the very things we love about the series.

Happy one year anniversary, Super Mario Odyssey! One of the very best experiences gaming has to offer. Keep putting smiles on faces.

Full Super Mario Odyssey review can be found here.

Super Mario Party Review

Super Mario Party is something of a bittersweet occasion. It’s mostly sweet, mind you, as this eleventh installment in the long-running series feels refreshingly like a return to form, after the past few sequels seemed to go off the rails. Super Mario Party is, in essence, what Mario Party should be: four-player multiplayer fun. The bitterness is felt in Super Mario Party’s technical restrictions, a few unfortunate gameplay limitations, and at least one element in the main mode which feels outright unfair… even by Mario Party standards. So while Super Mario Party may be a return to form for the beloved series, its shortcomings prevent it from reaching the staggering heights it otherwise may have.

“Star get!”

First and foremost, Super Mario Party resurrects the series’ classic gameplay (No more ‘party car’ nonsense). Four players face-off in a giant board game, where they compete to gain the most stars. In between turns a mini-game is played, with the winner of each mini-game claiming coins. Players primarily gain stars by purchasing them from Toadette on the game board, though there are a few other means of obtaining them.

Although the classic gameplay has returned, a few new twists have been made to the formula. Super Mario Party includes twenty playable characters (four of which need to be unlocked). While they may all play the same within the mini-games to keep things fair, each character now possesses their own special dice, in addition to the standard six-sided die that anyone can use.

“I kind of love how you can play as iconic enemies like Shy Guy, Boo, Monty Mole and a Hammer Brother.”

The character specific dice are a case of risk and reward. Shy Guy’s dice, for example, is comprised of five sides of 4 and one 0, giving him a safe chance of moving a decent number of spaces, but risking not moving at all. Meanwhile, Bowser’s dice allows him to trample all over the place with high rolls of 8, 9 and 10 spaces, but also risks landing on a 1 or losing three coins (in addition to not moving). It’s an interesting twist on the Mario Party formula, with the characters who boast the biggest advantages also having the biggest shortcomings, which not only balances things a bit, but prevents the standard dice from losing its relevance.

“Oh lord, it’s Double Dash all over again!”

There’s another interesting new element to the proceedings, as players can now gain allies by means of landing on a special space or using an item to summon them. These allies are comprised of any of the playable characters not currently in the session. Whoever you claim will not only add to your roll (allies can only roll a 1 or 2), but also give you access to that character’s dice. You can also gain multiple allies, which means that much more can be added to your rolls, and you can use that many more dice. There are even a few mini-games in which your allies can help out, which may seem unfair, but it’s the kind of “hate your friends” unfair that has always been associated with the series.

“Waluigi wins? Is it possible to use those words together in a sentence like that?”

As for the mini-games, Super Mario Party boasts no less than 80 of them. And for the most part, it’s a pretty stellar lineup. The usual four player, two-vs-two and three-vs-one mini-games return, though the battle and dueling mini-games from the series’ oldest entries are sadly still absent. The mini-games use a variety of different play methods, whether traditional button presses, motion controls, and even games with minimal interaction (like selecting objects in one of the game’s surprisingly fun memorization games). Thankfully, very few of the mini-games feel based around luck this time around, and the motion-control implementation is top-notch (one game which sees players try to jiggle candy out of a jar is the best use of physics in a video game this year).

On the downside of the game, there is one aspect that is completely luck-based: the end-game bonuses.

Yes, the old Mario Party titles also included end-game bonuses, which could turn the tide completely at the last minute, but they were consistent with what their bonuses were. Those entries rewarded the player who won the most mini-games, landed on the most green spaces, and claimed the most coins (an odd choice, considering it usually coincided with the mini-game bonus). But in Super Mario Party, the bonuses are randomly selected, as are the number of bonuses it decides to dish out at the end of a match (usually it’s two, but every so often there will be three).

In the first game I played, I managed to snag a bonus star for winning the most mini-games, but I ended up in a close second in my second game because one of my opponents got bonuses for having an ally and for moving the least spaces (why should that even warrant an award?). It was frustrating in the old Mario Parties when your friends would steal first place in the last minute thanks to the bonuses, but at least you could somewhat strategize with the knowledge of what the bonuses would be. You could try to win the most mini-games, or aim for the most coins. But here, you have no idea what the bonuses will be until they’re dished out. If the game had to have random end-game rewards, it should at least inform players what they’ll be at the start of the game, so that they can actually try working towards earning them, instead of keeping their fingers crossed.

“Hey! The Bob-omb King! Remember that guy? One of the boards revolves around him.”

Aside from that (admittedly infuriating) aspect, the classic board game play style of Mario Party is at the best it’s been since the early GameCube titles. And the excellent mini-games are the most memorable since the beloved N64 trilogy. Unfortunately, there is a strange shortage of game boards to choose from at only four. Each board is fun and finds ways to stand out, but you can’t help but wish there were more.

On the bright of things, Super Mario Party makes up for the lack of boards by providing some interesting new modes, one of which – River Survival – is actually a great alternative to the classic board game setup. If classic Mario Party is all about competition, River Survival changes things up in the name of cooperation.

“Race for your life, Shy Guy!”

In River Survival, four players work together to – as the name suggests – survive river rafting by working together. All four players paddle their oars using motion controls, with the players on the left swerving the raft right, and the players on the right swerving the raft left. Players will have to pop balloons spread throughout the river to play cooperative mini-games, which will add more time to the clock upon completion. While the number of mini-games in River Survival are limited, the river itself contains branching paths, with each path providing their own challenges. So there’s still a decent sense of variety.

The other new mode is Sound Stage, which pits players in a series of motion controlled, rhythm-based mini-games as they compete for the highest score. It’s a fun and welcome diversion, but Sound Stage lacks the heft of the classic mode and River Survival. In addition to these modes, you can always choose to play a selection of unlocked mini-games.

“Alex, I’ll take “Things Sakurai Would Never Say” for 500.”

One unavoidable aspect of Super Mario Party that might not sit well with all players is that it’s a Switch title that cannot be played in the Switch’s handheld mode. There are a few mini-games that can be played with multiple undocked Switches – which serve as cool tech demos but won’t last long – but you can’t play any of the game’s main modes in handheld form. At the very least, this is an understandable technical limitation, as the game requires players to only use a single Joycon so that it’s easier for multiple players to join in (not to mention the game brings out some creative uses in the Joycons’ motion and rumble features). But it’s obviously a limitation that won’t sit well for those who enjoy the on-the-go nature of the Switch.

A far, far less understandable restriction comes in the form of Super Mario Party’s online mode. Continuing Nintendo’s infamous trend of bizarre online decisions, Super Mario Party’s online is limited to a single mode which sees players sprint through five mini-games. Five mini-games that are on rotation from a grand total of ten.

That’s right, Mario Party finally has an online mode, but you can’t get the whole Mario Party experience with friends across the world. You’re limited to a measly ten mini-games, with only five of which being playable at a time. No board game, no River Survival, no access to the majority of mini-games.

This not only comes off as a huge downer, but also an embarrassing missed opportunity, considering Super Mario Party’s release practically coincided with the launch of Switch’s online service. Some might say that the board game matches are too lengthy, and have a higher risk of players dropping out, but I can’t see why they couldn’t limit the board games to be played with people on your friends list, and giving access to every mini-game to the broader online crowd.

“My favorite characters (minus Geno) teaming up? Yes please!”

For those who long for the glory days of Mario Party, Super Mario Party serves up a fitting return to form for the series. The classic board game style is resurrected and at full force – being muddled only by a lack of boards and the obnoxiously random end-game bonuses – and the additions of character dice and allies provide some meaningful change. The mini-games are varied and among the best the series has ever seen. The River Survival and Sound Stage modes provide some good versatility to the overall package. The game boasts simple-but-catchy music, and incredibly sharp, colorful visuals (it’s no Odyssey, but it doesn’t need to be). The single control option won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it’s the bafflingly restrictive online features that serve as the real party-pooper.

Super Mario Party is a whole lot of fun, and it’s great to see the series get back on track. But here’s hoping the Switch sees a Mario Party sequel in the not-to-distant future that expands on what Super Mario Party started, and isn’t afraid to take the entire friendship-ruining Mario Party experience online.

 

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Mario Tennis Aces Review

Although they’ve never produced any all-time classics in the way the primary platformers of the Super Mario series, the Mario RPGs, and the Mario Karts have, the Mario sports title may be the best example of the franchise’s unique ability to seemingly make any genre more fun simply by having its name associated with it. Even those who have no interest whatsoever in any given sport should still be able to find enjoyment out of it when it’s given a Mushroom Kingdom twist. I mean, when you add in characters like Luigi and Donkey Kong, and then throw in some crazy gimmicks and special moves, something like golf suddenly becomes a lot more interesting. Perhaps the most consistent of Mario’s sporting endeavors are his ventures into tennis. The newest entry, Mario Tennis Aces, perhaps polishes up the core gameplay more than any previous Mario Tennis title, though it does come at the expense of a relative lack of content.

“Rosalina is best girl!”

Mario Tennis Aces seems to be all about refining what we’ve come to know about Mario Tennis. In this sense, the game is a roaring success. Mario Tennis gameplay has simply never felt so smooth and fluid. No matter which character you pick, the game feels great to control, with slight differences given to each character based on their weight class (don’t expect Bowser to move as gracefully as Rosalina). Mario Tennis Aces features a variety of control styles, all of which feel comfortable, though my personal preference is a Joy-con in each hand.

“Waluigi is here. That’s one thing Mario Tennis will always have over Smash.”

Different types of shots are mapped to different buttons on the controller, while combinations of those buttons (one to prepare to strike the ball, one for the strike itself) add to the mix. Should you charge a shot long enough before striking the ball, you build up energy, which can be used to slow down time, perform a quick counter-shot, and – if the energy meter is completely full – a special move. Additionally, stars appear on the court from time to time, which allow players to perform a “zone shot,” which briefly brings things to a first-person view for player’s to throw an exceptionally fast ball.

This brings me to one of the more disappointing elements of Mario Tennis Aces’ gameplay: the zone shots and character specials are more or less the same. The only difference is that the special moves come with a unique animation beforehand, and do more damage to your opponent’s racket. If a player (or the CPU) doesn’t time the ball just right after their opponent hits a zone shot or special, their racket will take damage. With enough damage, your racket will break, thus ending the game early.

It’s easy to imagine this being a divisive mechanic. On one hand, it provides a unique spin to the series, and adds a different element of strategy to the proceedings as you gain energy and plot to build up to the point of destroying an opponent’s racket. But on the other hand, it kind of makes a drastic change to the very game of tennis. But if you’re among those frustrated with the mechanic, you can always turn it off.

Though this leads to another questionable design decision for the game. While you can choose whether or not your rackets can break during a match, you cannot change the length of a match or set in a game of tennis. And, bizarrely, you can’t directly select which court you wish to play on, instead having to “deselect” stages you don’t want on the options menu, which seems unnecessarily arduous. Perhaps in another tennis game it wouldn’t be a big deal, but given the unique themes and gimmicks of Mario Tennis courts, it would make a basic level select option all the more ideal than in normal circumstances.

Thankfully, the core gameplay is so much fun, that if you’re playing multiplayer (whether online or next to a friend), you might not mind the limited options. Single player, however, does leave a bit more to be desired.

“Mario Tennis Aces brings back the odd Mario sports tradition of resurrecting Super Mario Sunshine bosses.”

The primary single player mode in Mario Tennis Aces is an adventure mode that sees Mario on a journey to collect five power stones to stop the power of an ancient, evil tennis racket, which has taken control of Luigi, Wario and Waluigi. It’s a surprisingly humorous story mode with its wacky plot, and it features some fun RPG elements to it (Mario can gain experience points and levels, and additional tennis rackets can be obtained through optional stages). Not to mention it provides a fair bit of variety in its challenges. The downside to the story mode, however, is its severely fluctuating difficulty curve.

You would think that the stages would gradually get more progressively difficult as you go, especially seeing as this is a Mario game, and that’s an area in which the franchise usually shines. But the challenge of the story mode in Mario Tennis Aces is all over the place. You’ll go from a ridiculously easy stage to a ludicrously difficult one at any given time, with seemingly no warning as to when the difficulty is going to spike to a new high or drop to relaxing low. Two stages in particular – against Blooper and Boom Boom, of all characters – gave me a considerable challenge. The story mode does provide some solid fun in the gameplay, variety and RPG elements, but the inconsistent difficulty may be too jarring for some.

“Chain Chomp FTW!”

Even with these issues, however, Mario Tennis Aces is an undeniable good time. The sheer polish that exudes from its gameplay marks a new high for the series, while free play and tournament modes give multiplayer a huge amount of replay value. Add in the fact that you can not only play as series regulars like Mario, Luigi, Peach and Bowser, but entertaining newcomers like Spike and Chain Chomp, and you have one of the most distinctly ‘Mario’ of all Mario sports titles. If Nintendo and Camelot can take this core gameplay for the next entry, while refining the single player campaign and adding more play styles and customizable options, and we could have the Mario Kart 8 equivalent of Mario’s sports titles. As it is, well, the pieces are in place.

 

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Happy Mario Day 2018!

Today is Mar. 10, which means it’s Mario Day! I had originally planned on getting a review for a certain Mario game up today, but I was unable to get it done in time (be patient, my loves). To compensate, let’s celebrate Mario Day with every Mario review I’ve written thus far (Plus one by Mr. AfterStory)! Here we go!

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker 

Dr. Mario 64

Luigi’s Mansion Arcade

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Arcade) 

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Mario Golf (N64)

Mario is Missing

Mario Kart 64

Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Mario Kart Arcade GP DX

Mario Kart: Super Circuit 

Mario Party 2

Mario Party: Island Tour

Mario’s Time Machine

Mario Tennis (N64)

Mario Tennis Open

New Super Luigi U

New Super Mario Bros.

New Super Mario Bros. 2

New Super Mario Bros. U

Paper Mario: Color Splash

Paper Mario: Sticker Star

Super Mario 3D Land

Super Mario 3D World

Super Mario 64

Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros. 2

Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Super Mario Kart 

Super Mario Maker 

Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey (AfterStory Review)

Super Mario Sunshine

Super Mario World

Yoshi

Yoshi’s Story

Yoshi’s Woolly World

Yoshi Touch & Go 

 

Happy Mario Day, everybody! Let’s-a go!

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle Review

You really can’t judge a book by its cover. Or in this case, a game by its concept. When news leaked in late 2016 that Ubisoft was making a crossover title between their Rabbids characters and Nintendo’s Super Mario franchsie – one that was rumored to involve guns – gamers were a bit skeptical (to put it lightly). With nothing to go by but those rumors, the entire concept sounded like some batty fanfiction. But now here we are in 2017, and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a reality. And it’s a damn good game. Yes, it’s as strange as it sounds, but it’s also one of the freshest – and best – Mario games in recent years, and one of the best titles on the Nintendo Switch.

Mario + Rabbids really is unlike anything else bearing the Mario name. Though Mario’s world has always been one of surrealism, here it is the more sane of the game’s two clashing worlds. The Rabbids have run amok in the Mushroom Kingdom, bringing with them a sense of irreverence (and toilet humor) that would normally seem out-of-place in Mario’s usual fairy tale world.

The story goes like this: a genius inventor from our world, who also happens to be a Mario Bros. fangirl, has created the “Supamerge,” a device that can combine two objects together. While she’s away, a group of Rabbids arrive in her room/workplace in their inter-dimensional, time-traveling washing machine, and start chaotically playing with all the Mario memorabilia. One Rabbid, however, starts messing around with the Supamerge, and accidentally begins merging his fellow Rabbids with the objects around them. The Rabbid then hits the time washing machine with the Supermerge which, combined with all the Mario-themed items scattered about, inexplicably teleports the Rabbids – along with the genius’ robot assistant Beep-0 – to the Mushroom Kingdom.

From there, the Rabbid who stole the Supamerge accidentally ends up merging with the machine itself, thus giving himself the ability to combine objects. This Rabbid is found by Bowser Jr., who decides to use this Rabbid’s newfound ability to create a mutant Rabbid army and take over the Mushroom Kingdom while Bowser is away on vacation. Naturally, it’s up to Mario to save the day, but he’ll be getting some help from some of his usual friends, as well as a group of Rabbids who were cosplaying as Mario characters when they were merged, thus adopting those characters’ heroic traits.

It’s…it’s insane. Though it seems weird for a Mario game to be so meta as to present itself as a video game in its own story, it does seem a bit less inappropriate due to the outright insane idea behind the game itself. After all, this is a title in which Yoshi wields a machine gun. It’s not exactly the usual Mario fare.

“Depending on positioning, enemies can have 0, 50 or 100 percent cover from fire.”

Gameplay-wise, Mario + Rabbids is a tactical RPG in the vein of XCOM. The game is played in a somewhat isometric perspective, with the segments in between battles featuring some exploration and puzzle-solving elements. Players technically control Beep-0, who guides Mario and friends throughout the exploration segments. Meanwhile, the game features eight playable characters for battles, with players being able to select three of them at a time for their team.

Mario is of course mandatory to be in your party at all times, as is the case in every Mario RPG up to this point. But along the way, Mario will be joined by Luigi, Princess Peach and Yoshi, as well as four Rabbids dressed as those characters (aptly named Rabbid Mario, Rabbid Peach, etc.). Battles take place in grid-like environments, where characters take turns performing their actions. Each character is allowed three actions per turn (movement, attack, and using an ability), with the best part being that, for deeper strategy, you can swap between characters during individual actions, instead of having to blast through all of a character’s actions at a time.

These actions aren’t as simple as just making a move and attacking, however. Character placement is key to victory, and you want to be moving your character somewhere where they can cover from enemy fire, while also having enemies in their line of sight. Additionally, during the movement phase, a character can “dash” into an enemy for some extra damage, and can select a nearby teammate to perform a “team jump” to cover even more distance.

Each character has their own role to play, with everyone having their own combinations of weapons and abilities. Luigi, for example, is a bit of a glass canon; being able to deal great damage from a distance with his sniper-like weaponry, but has the least hit points of all the characters. Meanwhile, Princess Peach is something of a tank, having a large number of hit points, a shotgun-like weapon that deals close range damage, and a shield ability that let’s her soak up half of the damage enemies do to whoever she’s protecting. Rabbid Luigi specializes in debuffing enemies, while Rabbid Peach heals allies.

Even the abilities everyone shares, such as the dashes and team jumps, have unique features depending on the individual character. Mario can, of course, damage enemies by jumping on them with a team jump, while Luigi is the only character who can team jump twice in a row, and Peach’s team jump heals allies nearby to her landing position. While the Mario characters get the better jumping benefits, the Rabbids have the more varied dashing abilities. Rabbid Peach can dash into multiple enemies, while Rabbid Mario’s dash explodes as to damage other nearby foes.

Between every character’s primary weapon, secondary weapon, and special abilities, there’s a wide range of gameplay and strategy options available for every battle. Better still, you gradually unlock more character abilities (or improve those you already have) by upgrading a character’s skill tree. By winning battles and completing certain tasks, you are awarded with Power Orbs, which are essentially experience points, and are used to customize a character’s skill trees to however the player sees fit. You can even respec the characters at any given time.

Power Orbs, as well as coins for buying weapons, come in greater numbers depending on your performance in battle. Should you keep all of your characters alive and finish off enemies within a certain amount of turns, you’ll be given a better grade and better rewards, thus giving you more incentive to thoroughly think through your strategies.

“The game pays homage not only to core Mario titles, but its expanded universe as well, including Donkey Kong Country.”

I can’t compliment the battle system enough. The battles will constantly keep you on your toes and scratching your head wondering how to best tackle the enemies and their tactics, as well as how to use the environment to your advantage. There are even some types of battles that change up the rules – such as escorting Toad or getting a character to a certain point – that add a whole other layer to the battle system’s depth and complexity.

If there’s one downside to battles, it’s that your team options are more limited than you’d like. It’s understandable that Mario has to be in your team, but on top of that, you must also have a Rabbid on your team at any given time. I can understand Ubisoft wanting players to use their characters (who wouldn’t pick all Mario characters if given the option?), but if that needed to be the case, then maybe the team size should have been expanded to four characters instead of three. There were multiple occasions where I knew I would have a battle down pat if I could have both Peach and Luigi on my team. But I couldn’t do that simply because I then wouldn’t have a Rabbid in battle. And when you consider that Princess Peach and Rabbid Peach are the only characters with healing abilities (and there are no healing items in battle), you’ll likely feel the need to have at least one of them on your team at all times. While the battle system itself is insanely fun mechanically, the team limitations can be a bit disappointing at times.

Some may lament that, at only four worlds long, the game may appear to be on the short side. And considering you don’t get Yoshi on your team until midway through the fourth world, he may come across as underutilized. But each of these four worlds are decently lengthy, consisting of nine “chapters” apiece, plus a secret chapter found in each that can only be accessed after the world is otherwise completed. Additionally, after you’ve conquered a world boss, you can replay the world and face a series of challenges which further change up the rules (finish a fight in a set number of turns, get everyone to a specific spot without dying, etc.). And there are a few “Ultimate challenges” that are only available post-game, so little Yoshi still has a lot to do, despite being a last minute addition to the story mode.

Mario + Rabbids is one of the best looking titles on the Nintendo Switch, with clean, colorful graphics that take advantage of the usual Mario aesthetics, combined with a bit more absurdity to compliment the Mushroom Kingdom’s current invaders. I did experience multiple freeze-ups during my playthrough, however. Nothing that affected gameplay, but still frequent enough to note.

The visuals are a definite standout, though there was a little bit of a missed opportunity in combining the Rabbids with traditional Mario enemies. While I enjoyed all the character designs, it does seem a bit weird that Chain Chomps and Boos are the only usual Mario baddies to show up, and even then, they show up as obstacles, not enemies. Not really a complaint, but should there be a sequel, I hope to see some Rabbids donning Koopa shells or riding Lakitu’s cloud, and maybe a Bob-omb with bunny ears.

Along with the battle system, Mario + Rabbids’ biggest highlight is its musical score. Composed by the great Grant Kirkhope, Mario + Rabbids captures a unique flair in the Mario series, but one that should stand alongside the series’ classic scores. From a handful of classic Mario tunes remixed, to the completely original tracks, Mario + Rabbids has a fantastic score that is distinctly Kirkhope. So on top of Mario, Rabbids and XCOM, the game may also bring Banjo-Kazooie to mind. And that’s just swell.

2017 has proven to be a banner year for the video game medium, with one great title being released after another. And Mario + Rabbids is a standout title among that lot. It’s a surprise no one really could have seen coming (even after information on it leaked). It combines two very different franchises, and mixes in some inspirations from others, to create something that feels completely original. It’s far and away the best Rabbids game ever made, and it’s also one of Mario’s best outings in recent memory.

 

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